Residents of an apartment complex in Dartmouth, N.S., are fearful of losing their homes after the land they live on was quietly listed for sale.
Ocean Breeze Village, a mix of apartment buildings and townhouses, has just under 400 units in Dartmouth, close to the MacKay bridge.
Those apartments are among the last that are considered “affordable” during a provincial housing crisis that has seen skyrocketing prices amid COVID-19.
A listing for 396 Princess Margaret Blvd., by CBRE, a commercial real estate agency, describes the 57-acre property as a “multifamily platform opportunity.” It did not list a price.
It said the site has a high residential density designation, “allowing for an estimated buildable density in excess of 3.2 million (square feet), making this, we believe, the highest density cluster of any site in the HRM currently.”
But for Jordyn Johnson, who’s lived there for 11 years, the site isn’t just an “opportunity.”
“It’s home,” said Johnson, who shares an $1,100-per-month unit with their partner and one-year-old son. “I can’t afford anything else, this is all I have. We worked very hard for this place.”
The listing also said the vacancy status of the land was “unknown,” despite the fact that many people are still living there.
Johnson wasn’t aware that the land was listed for sale until the Nova Scotia NDP tweeted about it last week. Johnson said they contacted their office last week and the workers there also didn’t know it had been listed for sale.
Johnson is scared about what will happen to them and the other tenants if it is purchased by a developer who wants to demolish the apartments and build new ones. They were also worried for the people who work there.
“There’s a lot of people that are heartbroken,” Johnson said.
“There’s going to be hundreds of us, kids, families — there’s people who have been here 20 years — with nowhere to go.”
‘Nowhere else’ to go
Global News was unable to reach the Elia Corporation, the Ontario-based company which owns the building, for comment. Global has also sent multiple requests to Universal Realty, which manages the building, but has not received a response.
Clark MacIntosh, who lives in a three-bedroom townhouse at Ocean Breeze for about $1,100 a month, is also concerned about what the sale could mean for the tenants.
“There’s about a thousand folks that live in Ocean Breeze here, and we know that there’s not a thousand affordable units in the city available, should we be displaced,” he said.
“We need to be considered during these discussions, and we’re not just going to be a group of people that can just move on. There’s nowhere else to move on to.
“We want to ensure that Ocean Breeze stays affordable and available for housing.”
MacIntosh said many tenants are “terrified.” He is making signs and banners for tenants to display to make their voices heard.
“It’s really to let potential developers know that this isn’t just land for them to build on, this is a community that’s already here,” he said.
“So many of us are families, so many migrant and immigrant families here that have been displaced from their home countries … We are going to make sure that we fight to ensure they’re not now displaced by capitalism and the housing crisis.”
‘Impossible to know’ what will happen
Susan Leblanc, the NDP MLA for Dartmouth North, where the complex is located, said she has heard from several worried tenants about the sale.
“There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of panic,” she said.
“As we know, there’s a very limited supply of any kind of accommodation in HRM, let alone affordable rental accommodation, so people are understandably worried.”
According to the NDP, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax went up by 20 per cent between January 2020 and January 2021, and the average price to purchase a home went up by more than $100,000 between June 2020 and June 2021.
Leblanc said the units at Ocean Breeze can fit larger families and are good for people with children — something that’s increasingly difficult to come by in HRM these days.
“I’m really concerned that that housing might go away,” she said.
However, Leblanc noted that it’s still early on and it’s still unclear what will happen.
“Somebody could buy it and be like, ‘We’re going to make an affordable housing haven here,’ or somebody could buy it and say, ‘We’re going to tear everything down and we’re going to build high-rises,’” she said.
“It’s really impossible to know at this point.”
Leblanc said last year, the NDP tabled legislation that would give the government the first chance to buy property, so they can use it for government-run affordable housing or work with organizations to create affordable housing.
She said it would be a great opportunity for the province. “The province knows we need to build more affordable units, so why not get the province involved in that?”
In a scrum at Province House Tuesday, Housing Minister John Lohr said he “certainly understands the concerns of the residents there.”
However, he said the province is not looking at purchasing Ocean Breeze at this time.
“Never say never, but I don’t think so,” he said, adding that the government’s recent changes to the residential tenancy act and extension of the rent cap would help tenants.
In the meantime, Leblanc is asking people to not panic.
“We will organize, we will do as much as we can to make sure that folks stay in their homes,” she said. “But again, without real leadership from the government, that will be a challenge.”